Fruitvale Station

Fruitvale Station ★★★★½

As I sit here writing this review, still completely shaken up, I recall years back to seeing United 93 for the first time; a movie that made me feel every little (and large) emotion the passengers on Flight 93 felt at the time of their crash on September 11th. This is in no way to say that Fruitvale Station and United 93 are similar, but what they do have in common is this unmatched sense of realism, one that throws you head-first into a real tragedy and keeps your heart pumping up until the inevitable climax.

It's a little strange to watch Fruitvale Station and keep hoping that it turns out to be a happy ending. For a story that was all over the news just four years ago, one would assume the experience would be somewhat predictable. Not the case, however, as first time full feature director Ryan Coggler handles the tragic event as the bridge between the life of Oscar Grant beforehand and the aftermath with sincerity and depth. We see Oscar's relationship with his wife, child and mother fleshed out into these intricate vignettes, and each of those moments is like a meditation of life inasmuch as it is a daunting exploration of death, prejudice and today's American society.

Michael B. Jordan, in his brief, yet highly memorable, time on HBO's The Wire proved to be a more than capable actor, but there was never any hint as to whether he's leading material. Fortunately for all of us, not only did he prove to certainly have the chops, but he carries Fruitvale Station with aplomb. Jordan' Oscar is charismatic and lights everything around him. His smile alone fills the entire audience with such joy and optimism that you can't help but feel love for the character. Placing the character in a position where he had a troubled past, the movie very easily could have crossed exploitative territory, but Coggler and Jordan's collaboration kept it from getting anywhere near that.

Without the brilliant cinematography, much of the reflection about the film afterwards would have been impossible. It's the kind of story that when you walk out, you keep recycling in your mind because it's so painful, you keep wanting to remember the positive. Just like a very key scene with Octavia Spencer (in her best performance to date as Wanda, Oscar's mom) begs everyone around her to keep positive and not focus on the shooting. What makes this movie work so well is that Coggler handles his own script just as delicately -- never putting pressure on you to feel angry, but rather to remember the last days of a man who didn't have an ounce of hatred for anyone, and the daughter he loved so much and was forced to leave so early.

I do admit that there were several times I shed tears. There's a heart-wrenching scene between Oscar and a stray dog, where I felt every bit of sadness as I did during the scenes that preceded the shooting. So many other directors would have hammed this up and used every possible moment to suck every bit of emotion out of us as humanly possible. Composer Ludwig Goransson (who randomly does the music for shows like Community, Happy Endings and New Girl) treats the key moments not as an opportunity to pull at our heartstrings with flutes and strings. He treats it as the "my heart is currently not pumping blood properly" feelings we would have if we were in that situation. His use of subtle bass-induced simple cords draws out everything that's needed, and it works beautifully.

Fruitvale Station feels immensely short. Clocking in at 85 minutes, it's a movie that doesn't need to force expository dialogue down your throat. It's a movie that uses long silent shots to draw out emotion, and it's a movie that's edited perfectly to give you everything you need to know and feel about one of the most tragic cases in recent American history. With the Trayvon Martin case still fresh in all of our minds, it works on a visceral level, never crossing into insulting territory. Station feels authentic, not manipulative. It never shoves anything down our throats and doesn't tell us how we should feel, that's our job. As spectators the only thing we need to know is the truth, and with that it's up to us to treat it however we'd like. It's hard to feel anything but sadness in the end, but the movie allows us to contemplate and give meaning to the life of a person who didn't have a chance to give it to himself.

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